Rau Top Pre-Season Pick, Highly-Touted Vannelli Drops Out
Kyle Rau is the lone unanimous pick on the first Big Ten Pre-Season Players To Watch list: With the decimation of last season’s junior class through advancements to pro hockey, the incoming junior forward is Minnesota’s top returning scorer. He was a point-a-game player last season, notching 40 points in 40 games (15-25-40). He tied for the national lead in game-winning goals with seven. The Gophers were 23-2-1 when he recorded at least one point.
Meanwhile, now-sophomore goalie Adam Wilcox, who burned up the WCHA last season on the way to a school record 1.88 goals-against average, is also on this year’s Players To Watch List. As is defenseman Mike Reilly, Minnesota’s top-scoring blueliner last season. Like Wilcox, Reilly turned in a remarkable freshman season. He scored 14 points in 37 games and was part of Team USA’s gold medal trip to the IIHF World Championships in Russia.
Highly-rated Vannelli Calls It Quits
Meanwhile, a top high school prospect who was also a high NHL draft pick has decided not to play for the Gophers. Defenseman Tommy Vannelli, an incoming freshman who split last season between the Minnetonka Skippers and the US National Under 18 Team, has decided to pursue other interests. The official explanation from UM is that “after a few weeks of trying to balance academics and athletics, Vannelli decided that college hockey ‘was not the best route for him at this time.’” in the words of head coach Don Lucia.
Something tells me there’s more to the story than that but there you go.
Vannelli is related to St. Thomas Academy co-head coaches Tom and Greg Vannelli. Tom is a former Gopher captain and standout and my longtime (16 seasons) broadcast partner on radio and TV. Greg is a former captain at St. Thomas University.
Tommy Vannelli turned a lot of heads as a prep and national team player. He was drafted in the second round by the St. Louis Blues (47th overall) in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. He was expected to provide a significant two-way punch to the Gopher defensive corps this season. It’s unclear where Vannelli will play, if anywhere, in the coming months.
Coaches Pick Bucky As Top Team
The first Big Ten hockey pre-season coaches poll, meanwhile, lands Minnesota in second place. The early voting puts Wisconsin in first place followed by the Gophers and Michigan.
The new six-team league shakes out this way as far as the coaches are concerned:
1. Wisconsin2. MINNESOTA3. Michigan4(T) Michigan State4 (T) Ohio State6. Penn State
This will be Penn State’s first full season in Division I hockey. The Nittany Lions played a composite schedule of club and regular teams last year.
Doug McLeod returns to call Gopher hockey play-by-play on Fox Sports North beginning October 11 against Mercyhurst. Check this blog regularly for updates and insider info on all things Gopher hockey.